Discipline: Teaching the Importance of Consequences

You matter. It’s a key concept in teaching children self-esteem. It is also an important element of positive discipline. Teaching children that the decisions they make and the actions they take matter — and have consequences, both positive and negative — can help them learn self-discipline.

Teaching children the importance of consequences means setting realistic expectations, acting consistently and reflecting on good (and not so good) choices. Here are some ideas for helping children learn and grow through the choices they make:

  • Set expectations, not threats. Talk to your child about your expectations of their good behavior before a specific situation. Before going into a movie, talk about the importance of being quiet when you watch so everyone can enjoy the show. Let your child know you will have to leave the movie if he or she is noisy. You can also let your child know that that you believe that he or she can be a great movie-watcher. When you set specific expectations and clear consequences, you pave the way for a positive outcome.
  • Connect consequences. Work to connect specific consequences to specific behavior. For example, if a child makes a mess, the natural consequence is that they need to clean it up. An unrelated consequence for making a mess — such as having no dessert — isn’t a specific connection or natural consequence, and may be difficult for children to understand.
  • Be consistent. Consistent, predictable expectations and consequences help children feel safe. Children who feel safe tend to be less oppositional and misbehave less. Establishing clear boundaries and rules with kindness and logic helps children learn the benefits of positive behavior.
  • Discuss consequences. When possible, invite your child’s input on making decisions, rather than dictating. What happens if you don’t wear a coat when it is cold outside? What happens if you don’t brush your teeth? Involving children in considering the consequences of their own behavior can help build decision-making skills.
  • Be positive. Consequences are not only negative! Discuss the good things that come out of certain types of behavior (“She was so happy that you shared your toys.”) and the possible positive outcomes of doing certain things. Knowing that he or she can have a positive impact on the world through his or her actions is a powerful lesson that your child can use throughout life.
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